Marvel’s Avengers review for PS4, Xbox One, PC

Platform: PS4
Also On: Xbox One, PC
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Medium: Digital/Disc
Players: Multi
Online: Yes

Nearly a year ago I attended a press hands-on event with Marvel’s Avengers (which I will be abbreviating to just Avengers throughout this review). Going into the session, I didn’t know what to totally expect. Was it going to be similar to the Arkham series? More like Tomb Raider due to Crystal Dynamics developing? Or something completely different. Leaving the event, I didn’t know what to really compare Avengers to; was it more like Destiny mixed with Spider-Man? Having now finished the single player campaign and a bit of the end game multiplayer, I’m still struggling to definitively say what Avengers really is trying to do and which game it’s most akin to. Word of warning, I will include some very minor spoilers in this review, but nothing more than is already revealed in the open beta that was offered last month on all consoles.

Marvel’s Avengers has been a long time coming since Square Enix acquired the rights in January of 2017, and I’m not sure it lives up to the expectations of movie fans, comic fans or video game fans. Expectations is a key word for this review. I came in with expectations as a fan of all of the previously mentioned fandoms as well as expectations based on my hands-on experience last year and what some other outlets were reporting. At the end of the day the game did/does not play out at all like I expected it to, for better or worse. Let’s start at the beginning, with the main menu when you first start it up. You’re immediately told that you should play through the single player campaign before jumping into the ?Avengers Initiative? multiplayer mode because it contains story spoilers. This confused me as I planned on playing the game with some friends and again based on my previous hands-on and beta play I expected to be able to jump right in with some friends and begin to level up together and play through the story.

This disappointed me right from the get-go, so I had to play the campaign, mostly solo (more on this later), then hope that my friends have completed the campaign as well and are ready to play the multiplayer that’s offered following it. Chances of that are pretty slim with the friends I have that currently game. I almost envisioned this ?Tom Clancy’s The Division?-esque experience where we could drop in and out of each other’s games and use the mission selection (war table) to jump between missions from the story and/or side quests. Now you can do that, but it’s all after the ?recommend you play the single player campaign first,? and I just don’t see many of my friends playing the nine or so hour campaign then continuing to grind with me to see what aspects of the story they tidy up after the game. Having played through the campaign and some of the multiplayer like I referenced early, I can tell you the campaign has a very cool story, centered around Kamala Khan (who provides a ton of heart and soul into this game). However, this is essentially a nearly 10 hour tutorial to get you up to speed as to how all the launch characters play, the character skill trees, the gear, the challenge cards, yada, yada, yada? You see there’s a lot of stuff to go through, so they have you learn all of these gameplay mechanics throughout the campaign, then you’re ready to go into the true multiplayer and decide who to build up and who to make your ?main? (surprisingly I leaned towards Iron Man).

Now saying the campaign is TOTALLY single player is actually wrong, there are sprinkles of missions that you can perform with friends or via matchmaking, but it makes for an uneven experience. These handful of missions aren’t all made available at once and you’ll find you can do one or two then have to do the single player only mission to progress the story to unlock a few more team based missions. I get the whole process, teaching you the systems as I laid out before and also unlocking the launch roster as you play through the campaign, and maybe it’s just me, but I expected a very different experience. Also, I’m sure you noticed me mentioning the launch roster a couple times so far in the review; that’s because Square Enix has made a strong point to let everyone know that the playable roster will expand over time and all new characters and missions will be free. That kind of support is a great help in pitching people to pick up the game and hang around as new characters and story is added, but it hasn’t come without some controversy.

Prelaunch we were given some news of characters that are to be added after release, such as Hawkeye and Kate Bishop, and also told that Spider-Man would be added as well? but only for the PS4/PS5! So, arguably one of the most popular comic book characters of all time would be behind Sony exclusivity and not a time based deal, exclusive indefinitely? this really irked me. Despite being a player of all consoles and reviewing this release on PS4 (code provided by Square Enix for review), this move just seems totally wrong to me. They’re basically telling consumers buying on the Xbox and PC that you’re not going to get the full Avengers experience and that you should know that before spending your hard earned money on the game and the in-game microtransactions (oh yes, I haven’t forgot about these). Now I understand that Sony has some deal for Spider-Man, based on the Spectacular (see what I did there) Insomniac title from 2018 (and this has nothing to do with movie rights) and that would have seemed like a likely reason for this exclusivity, except for the fact that Spider-Man and his universe of characters all appeared in last year’s Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, which was a Nintendo Switch exclusive! While I’m sure I’ll check out the Spider-Man content on Avengers when it’s released, it is going to fragment the audience, no doubt. PC and Xbox players won’t get to play that mission content and there goes the possibility of cross console play, it’s really just not ideal.

Now onto the dreaded microtransations and how to even explain them. Like I mentioned before there are a ton of resources you collect in this game and one of them, Credits, is also purchasable via real money. While people immediately throw their hands up when they hear of these practices on a full price release, there is some hope when it comes to the Avengers. In-game for each playable character you have what’s called the Challenge Card. I compare the Challenge Card with another game I’m playing a lot of lately and also has a Marvel crossover currently; Fortnite’s Battlepass. So currently the launch characters each have a Challenge Card, and to progress the Challenge card for each character (they’re all separate, unlike Fortnite’s Battlepass) you must complete daily and weekly challenges. The weekly challenges are worth more than the daily challenges, obviously. Once you complete a few of these you will start to progress that character’s Challenge Card, which offers unlocks for gear, title cards, emotes, finishers, skins and even the Credits. So you can earn a maximum of 1300 Credits for each of the 6 launch characters. Now those can be spent in the in-game marketplace for more exclusive title cards, emotes, skins, etc.

Ok? deep breath? did everyone get all of that? So at the end of the day; the marketplace puts up that glorious Silver Centurion armor for Iron Man for 1400 Credits and you know you gotta buy it. If you haven’t been doing your challenge cards for each character, you’re going to have to pay out of pocket for that skin with real mullah. I respect that the option to earn the currency is given in-game, but I struggled to get rolling with the daily and weekly challenges for a couple of the characters. I chalk it up to the fact that these are meant to really be done in the Avengers Initiative, after the campaign is done, so I won’t judge it too harshly. It wouldn’t hurt to give a few more challenges per day though, as currently it’s limited to two per character. I should also mention, remember those free DLC characters being added post launch? Well they’re coming and to use them and their missions is definitely free, but if you want to play through each of their Challenge Cards, you’re going to need to web up $10 or 1000 Credits. Time will tell how this all shakes out, but this could become controversial like the microtransactions from Battlefront 2, which is also a Disney owned property.

Wow? all that and we haven’t even went into gameplay yet. So Avengers to me plays a bit like Ultimate Alliance crossed with Insomniac’s Spider-Man. You have your heavy and light attacks, dodge, jump, and then unique special moves that are limited. These special moves take time to recharge and are some of the cooler attacks in the game. With the specials you’ll call upon the Bifrost, Don the Hulkbuster, and Embiggen among other abilities. The combat is silky smooth and probably the best part of the game, it’s an awesome feeling mowing through enemies with Mjolnir, slinging Cap’s shield, or planting drones with Repulsors. I just wish it didn’t end up getting so repetitive, there’s a handful of sneaking missions in the campaign but once you’re into the Avengers Initiative I hope you’re prepared to just battle waves and waves of teleporting (randomly spawning) baddies. The lack of unique boss battles or enemy encounters really hurts replayability, but more on that later.

All the attacks and specials can also be upgraded through the skill tree which like nearly every other game, gives you a skill point each time you level up. Now, leveling up adds some extra confusion as you have a Challenge Card level as I mentioned before, then you have a power level, and finally you have your actual level. Power level is generally used to let you know how prepared you are for a given mission and goes up based on the gear your hero has. Gear is found scattered throughout levels and can also be purchased through in-game stores. Here I was reminded of the little of Destiny I played. Each character has unique gear that unfortunately does not alter the heroes appearance in any way, but it does give certain buffs to attacks, better chances for stuns, quicker recovery, you get the idea. Not only that but the gear itself can be boosted to give it more power, confused yet? I know I sure am. So not only are you finding gear in missions, you’re also finding all other kinds of resources used to upgrade these gear. Honestly I couldn’t tell you the name of any of these resources, all I know is when a piece of gear said I could boost it, you bet your ass (LANGUAGE) that I boosted it. Personally I have no interest in reading every perk a piece of gear gives, especially when it has no cosmetic change. I see a piece that’s more powerful than the one I have equipped and my ratings go up, BOOM, it’s equipped.

Overall, I liked the story more than I expected. While the hero appearances take some time to get used to and some choices are rather odd (yes, I’m looking at you, Hank Pym), I could look past it as the voice acting was terrific. The character interactions really worked well also and I was bought in on their bond as the story went on. Having said that, I still think Avengers doesn’t come close to Spider-Man, the Arkham games, or even the story of Ultimate Alliance 3. I might be in the minority, but having just a few villains throughout the whole campaign is extremely disappointing, most of who you fight in the first few hours (or already have in the beta). You have the Marvel roster at your disposal, use it! Why am I fighting hordes and hordes of robots, ships, and turrets? Having one main big bad made me feel like they were going for an MCU feel without the MCU rights or character likenesses. For a video game it just doesn’t work, you need more variety and more known villains to battle. Now, Square Enix might be holding out on other big name villains as they release the DLC characters and missions, but again as a full price release this is disappointing.

I’ve loved the Marvel Universe since I was just a little boy and that love continues to this day, so this review might be too harsh for many. However, as someone who plays nearly all superhero games, watches all the movies, and still reads the comics, I can’t help but be let down by the Avengers. Square Enix was in development way too long to turn out something that’s just fine and I didn’t even get into all the bugs and glitches that this launched with. I am optimistic though, that this game will grow if the community continues to support it. Avengers is meant to be a ?games as a service? after all and once we start seeing some DLC and the type of support that Square Enix gives we can get a better idea how this franchise will grow. If you’ve played all of the Arkham games, Ultimate Alliance games, and Insomniac’s Spider-Man, you really have no other choice for a Marvel experience, but if you haven’t I would sadly recommend any of those other games over this.

Note: Square Enix provided us with a Marvel’s Avengers PS4 code for review purposes.

Grade: C+